Every parent of a kid with a disability has those days when they say, “Oh my goodness, this would all be so much easier if my kid were normal.” Life can be hard, and it’s only human to think this.
But deep down how do you really feel about your child’s disability? Do you really wish they weren’t disabled?
And even more importantly how does your child view their own disability? And how do you want them to view it?
Let’s look at the perspective of disability as a negative. If your child generally wished they didn’t have a disability, how would that affect their life?
Let’s say your child was having trouble making friends at school. Likely their thoughts in this situation would be, “Those kids don’t like me because I have this stupid disability. If only I was normal I could play with them. I hate this disability.”
By despising the way they are, that negative thinking pattern leads to low self-esteem and blaming negative outcomes on their disability. And if you blame the disability, there’s nothing you can do to solve the situation. It’s really difficult to learn, grow, and enjoy life if you don’t like yourself and accept yourself as you are.
Now let’s look at disability as a positive. If your child viewed their disability as just a part of who they are, something that can be tough, but it helps them learn and grow, and they’re grateful for it, how would that affect their life?
Let’s go back to the example of having trouble making friends. With this mindset, they may think, “Those kids don’t like me because of my disability, but it’s a part of who I am. I still want to make friends, so how can I learn to do that, even if my disability makes it hard sometimes?”
By accepting their disability as a part of themselves and being grateful for what it gives them, your child is able to grow and learn. They’re able to problem solve, have better mental health and self-esteem, and ultimately have more confidence in themselves to achieve their dreams.
It may be surprising, but every single person that I’ve talked to or interviewed who has a disability and has achieved some “success” in their life (whatever that looks like to them: job, relationship, sports, etc) they all tell me the same thing. They all say that they would never wish away their disability. In fact, they are quite grateful for their disability as it has taught them many things and is an integral part of their identity. Their disability is ingrained into who they are as a human being.
Here are some people talking about their own perspective on their disability:
When I interviewed Kaitlyn Verfuerth, a Paralympic athlete, she told me,
“Whenever people ask me how I got hurt, and then I tell them the story, they’ll say like ‘Oh, I feel so bad for you’, but man I’m like, ‘Please don’t, like I am the luckiest person I feel because I’ve had all these great opportunities,’ and to me opportunities and experiences definitely outweigh everything that’s happened, so I’m very thankful for that.”
When I interviewed Claire Bergstresser, one of my former classmates who now works for the International Rescue Committee, she told me about the community she was looking for.
“There's a lot of people that I've met who are kind of looking for people because they are so sad about so many parts of their disability. So I'm not just looking for a community that I can reach out to, like I would love to be part of that community, but I also want to find the peeps who are just living their lives and don't just want to talk about how hard things are. They want to talk about how their date went, just a community of people empowering each other.”
When I interviewed Matthew Wangeman, a professor at Northern Arizona University, I asked him what contributed to his success and he told me that this viewpoint was most important:
“I think disability is just part of the human experience, and people don’t need to fix disabilities.”
And lastly, Amy Purdy, a para-snowboarder, founder of Adaptive Action Sports, and dancer on Dancing with the Stars, ended her TED talk with this message:
“Eleven years ago, when I lost my legs, I had no idea what to expect. But if you ask me today, if I would ever want to change my situation, I would have to say no. Because my legs haven't disabled me, if anything they've enabled me. They've forced me to rely on my imagination and to believe in the possibilities, and that's why I believe that our imaginations can be used as tools for breaking through borders, because in our minds, we can do anything and we can be anything.”
If you would like to watch her TED Talk, you can watch it here or click on the following link: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_purdy_living_beyond_limits?language=en
This mindset is not just about whether you like having a disability or not. It’s about whether you have a mindset of low self-esteem, blame, and getting stuck, or a mindset of self-acceptance, gratitude, and growth.
At this point, I bet you’re saying to yourself, “Okay, having a growth mindset sounds great, but how the heck do I make this happen?” This is a long post already, so I’m going to leave the how-to section for next time. In two weeks, I’ll post part 2 of this blog, detailing what you can actually do to help you and your child have a mindset like this.
For now, let me know in the comments how you or your child views their disability and how it’s had an effect on your lives.
See you in two weeks!